DAMASCUS — AS a measure of the distance traveled in recent months even by radical members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), George Habash acknowledges a shift in his own position: ``Myself, the state I'm demanding now is the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza,'' says the longtime Marxist leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). ``But I'm not ready to mention this publicly. Maybe after an international conference and Israeli recognition of the Palestinian right to exist.''
In an interview in his Damascus office, Dr. Habash - a physician from Lydda (now Lod in Israel) who helped found the PFLP in 1968 to fight an all-out war against Israel - also acknowledges benefits gained by PLO leader Yasser Arafat's policy of moderation approved at the 1988 Algiers meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC).
But Habash says the negatives outweigh the positives, and says he and others will push at the next PNC meeting to intensify the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories and find means to mobilize the Arab world behind it. He is also critical of Arafat's decision to go beyond the Algiers consensus in explicitly recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism.
``After two years the policy followed by Arafat - the policy of giving things in advance - clearly did not succeed. On the whole, the Palestinian people believe that the policy of begging did not work.''
``It made Israel and the US administration say, `Whatever we ask the PLO to do, there will come a time when they will agree,''' adds Habash of Arafat's concessions in Geneva in December 1988. ``This is why Israel became stubborn.''
``[Palestinians] do not want a totally different [policy] but one that stresses very accurately our three main rights: self-determination, the right of return, and having our state,'' Habash says. ``The mechanism [for attaining these rights] is not through a meeting in Cairo, but through an international conference.''
On Arafat's leadership, Habash adds: ``Arafat told our people that we are a meter stick from having our own state. As a result, the two years past have led to discouragement. Brother Arafat has created a false sense of expectations. He should have told Palestinians that their struggle would be very long and hard.
``We have to show [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir and [former Defense Minister Ariel] Sharon that Israel is losing, not gaining, from the occupation - by boycotting Israeli goods, stopping tourism, keeping Palestinian workers from jobs in Israel.''
``The Palestinians must feel that `what is important to me is not how much I am suffering, but how much we make the Israelis suffer. I am ready to bear much more than the Israelis can bear because they want a normal life.' You can have your own state only if you decide to fight forever if necessary.''
The second largest PLO faction, the PFLP carried out several terrorist attacks in the early 1970s, including the hijacking of four airliners to Jordan in 1970. Several hundred PFLP troops are based in Syria and Lebanon. For the first since the uprising the PFLP earlier this year issued its own leaflets calling for violent attacks on Israelis and condemning the proposed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo backed by Arafat.
On the issue of armed struggle, Habash says: ``At present, we are keen to have mass demonstrations shape the uprising. With women and kids with stones facing the Israelis we gain a lot. But I'm ready to think of human losses of Israelis, provided they are soldiers.''
``Sometimes I think that there is no other way but a Likud government, so that Sharon himself will come to the conclusion that he cannot put an end to the uprising. Then a big, wide door will open in front of us,'' says Habash. ``Israel will not come to the conclusion to make peace with Palestinians until they try all means and all of them fail.''